When we read the Apostle Paul’s prayers in his letters we can learn quite a bit about what he was thankful for. While Galatians is unique among Paul’s early letters, in that it does not include any specific prayer, most of his other epistles include prayers on behalf of believers.
In 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3, Paul is thankful for the Thessalonians’ faith, love, and hope:
2 We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers; 3 constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father,
In 3:10, Paul prays that he may see the Thessalonians again.
2 Thessalonians 1:3-4 is only slightly different from the prayer in Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, in that he thanks God for their faith and love, but not their hope (the letter is instructing the readers to have a stronger and more accurate hope):
3 We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is only fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows ever greater; 4 therefore, we ourselves speak proudly of you among the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure.
In 2 Thessalonians 1:11 Paul prays that for their growth and blessing:
11 To this end also we pray for you always, that our God will count you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power,
1 Corinthians 1:4-7 includes a prayer of thanksgiving for the Corinthians’ spiritual enrichment and eagerness to meet Christ face to face:
4 I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus, 5 that in everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge, 6 even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you, 7 so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ,
2 Corinthians 13:9 concludes with a prayer that the Corinthians would “be made complete.”
Romans 1:8 is a brief thanksgiving for the Romans’ faith and its reputation: “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.”
15 For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, 16 do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.
Here Paul is thankful for the past growth (in faith and love) of his brothers and sisters in Christ, and prays for their future knowledge and certainty in Christ (hope). Colossians 1:3-5 is similar:
3 We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, 4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints; 5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven.
Notice again his observation of the believers’ faith, love, and hope. He adds in 1:9-10 a prayer that they might grow in the knowledge of Him, so that they will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.
Philippians 1:3-6 is a bit different, in that Paul is not as specific regarding faith, hope, and love, but is more focused on the Philippians’ past and present participation in the gospel, and in the future completion of that work:
3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all, 5 in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.
In 1:9, Paul prays that the Philippians will grow in knowledge and discernment.
Philemon 4-6 expresses appreciation for Philemon’s faith and love, and desire that his faith grow even more. In 1 Timothy Paul does not include a prayer for others, though he does express his gratitude for being allowed to serve Christ (1:12). Titus is brief and didactic, and while there is clearly a good personal relationship between Paul and Titus, there is no prayer included in the letter. In 2 Timothy 1:3 Paul thanks God, as he constantly remembers Timothy in his “prayers night and day.”
What do we learn from Paul’s prayers?
1. He loved his brothers and sisters in Christ.
2. He was diligent in praying for their spiritual wellbeing.
3. He was faithful to express thanksgiving to God for growth in the lives of believers.
4. He was specific in how he prayed for believers: he desired that they grow in understanding God better and that they be even more godly in their walks.
In short, Paul’s focus was on how his brothers and sisters were doing spiritually. That is not so say he was unconcerned with their physical wellbeing, but he simply desired that they keep focused on things above, because of where their hope truly lies. Paul models for us how to express thanksgiving, and how to pray for others.